By Daniel McConnell, Elaine Loughlin,and Juno McEnroe
British prime minister Theresa May lost control of her government last night as the House of Commons voted to reject a no-deal Brexit under any circumstances. In a night of chaos and confusion in Westminster, MPs inflicted two more defeats on Ms May, rejecting the idea of Britain leaving the EU without a deal, and clearing the way for Brexit to be delayed.
As many as 17 of Ms May’s MPs defied her in the votes, which saw 321 MPs vote to reject a no-deal in all circumstances compared to 278 who supported her. Four cabinet ministers, the work and pensions minister Amber Rudd, the justice minister David Gauke, the business minister Greg Clarke, and Scotland minister David Mundell — abstained on the motion.
In Washington DC, Leo Varadkar insisted the UK will have to have a good reason before any extension can be accepted.
“Things look a bit brighter today than they did yesterday,” the Taoiseach said. “I anticipate the UK will seek an extension and we will want to see what the reason for that extension is.”
As a result of the vote, Ms May has tabled a motion seeking an extension of Article 50, which would delay Brexit, until June 30, to be debated today. The British government’s motion will ask MPs to back an extension until June 30 to pass legislation if the Commons can back a deal.
If the Commons has not passed a deal by March 20, it is “highly likely” the European Council would require a “clear purpose” for any extension, the motion adds.
A commission spokesperson said: “We take note of the votes in the House of Commons. There are only two ways to leave the EU: With or without a deal. The EU is prepared for both. To take no-deal off the table, it is not enough to vote against no-deal — you have to agree to a deal. We have agreed a deal with the prime minister and the EU is ready to sign it.”
There was also outrage in Ireland and throughout the UK following the publication of Britain’s proposed tariff regime in the case of a no-deal Brexit. Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin said the proposed tariffs on Irish exports would lead to “Armageddon” in Irish farming. He said the announcement of a tariff regime by the British government “would wipe out the beef industry”. EU Commissioner Phil Hogan questioned its legality, and said the UK was clearly trying to break unity among the EU 27 ahead of the next Council meeting.
“There is so much political chaos in London at the moment in the context of the EU-UK negotiations that there is obviously an effort being made to change the news cycle because this is a very ill-thought-out proposal, we don’t even know if it’s legal, if it’s compatible with the World Trade Organization Rules,” said Mr Hogan.
In the US, Mr Varadkar said that there is a “supreme irony” in the tariff proposals put forward by the British government t in seeking to treat the North differently to the rest of the UK. He raised the spectre of a tariff trade war between the EU and Britain after debate about any new levies on goods in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
“Well, what will happen is European law and European customs code will apply, so the common external tariff will apply to any goods exported from the United Kingdom to the European Union,” said Mr Varadkar. “And obviously, that will have a severe impact on the British economy and on the Northern Ireland economy in particular.” He said those who advocated for Brexit have been “chasing unicorns” for a “very long time”. “As we head into the next few weeks, it should be blatantly obvious that unicorns only exist in fairytales,” he said.
“I would say to people who advocated Brexit — is this really what they wanted? Protectionism, borders, tariffs, restrictions on trade?”